Garden of Earthly Delights: An XTC Celebration
By John M. Borack
Another stellar release from the fine folks at Futureman, this 32-track, two-disc set (with a whopping 17 digital-only tracks appended for non-CD buyers) finds indie pop practitioners celebrating and reimagining the music of XTC with verve, imagination and loads of melody. Some of the contributors will be familiar to fans of the genre—Danny Wilkerson, the Corner Laughers, Bird Streets, Chris Price, Derrick Anderson, and Chris Church to name a few—and while others such as King Radio, Myrtle Park’s Fishing Club and Hollywood Props might not exactly be considered household names, their versions of XTC tuneage are top drawer.
Plentiful are the bright spots: on disc one, essential XTCovers include The Kickstand Band’s reverent take of “Life Begins at the Hop”; Jim Laspesa and Rob Bonfiglio’s pitch-perfect “Dear Madam Barnum” (one of XTC’s superb earworms); Chris Price’s acoustic reading of “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead,” which is simultaneously mournful and stunningly powerful; Gretchen’s Wheel’s ethereal “The Last Balloon,” featuring Lindsay Murray’s emotionally powerful vocals and some cool, dynamic instrumental shifts; King Radio’s wonderful “Mayor of Simpleton” (another big-time earworm), with an intro that sounds like the Kinks’ “Victoria” shaking hands with Dave Edmunds’ “Deborah”; a perfectly boppin’ version of “Brainiac’s Daughter” by Pop 4 (one of a handful of tracks on the trib originally recorded by XTC under the “nom-de-psych” the Dukes of Stratosphear); the Matthew Sweet-like take of “Stupidly Happy” by Chris Church; and a beautiful, one man band rendition of “Wrapped in Grey” by the supremely talented pop chameleon Michael Simmons.
The peak on disc one, though, is Derrick Anderson’s “Don’t Lose Your Temper”; it’s far less manic than XTC’s original, and Anderson is ably supported instrumentally by the aforementioned Michael Simmons (guitar, organ, backing vocals), Robbie Rist (drums) and Colin Kupka (sax). The result is poppy, soulful, and oh so memorable.
Disc two: Pop Co-op’s “I’d Like That” is appropriately snappy, and includes a snatch of “This is Pop” towards the close; in advance of their debut album, new LA supergroup Bebopalula takes a whack at the awesome “Vanishing Girl” with great success; Paul Melancon’s “Another Satellite” is coolly hypnotic; “Rook,” as performed by the multi-talented Paul Myers, is a moody, stylized treat; Coke Belda and El Inquieto Roque provide some meaty power pop on “Standing in for Joe”; Dot Dash’s “Respectable Street” is nicely shambolic; Seth Timbs offers up the lovely “Blue Beret” (an Andy Partridge demo originally intended for XTC’s Oranges and Lemons LP); and Danny Wilkerson’s inspired “Where Did the Ordinary People Go?” is a sprightly, impeccably crafted nugget. Sitcom Neighbor, Plasticsoul, and Hollywood Props acquit themselves quite nicely, as well.
Disc two’s zenith would have to be the Corner Laughers’ delightful “Everything’ll Be Alright”—with cutesy lyrics and a music hall-inspired melody, the A. Partridge solo track sounds like it could have been written to order for the CL’s. Miss Karla Kane sings it with an effective wide-eyed innocence, which makes perfect sense since Partridge originally recorded the tune (and four others) for the Disney film James and the Giant Peach. (His songs were unfortunately rejected in favor of Randy Newman’s.)
Winners among the digital-only tracks include offerings from Anton Barbeau (quirky like he), Corin Ashley and Cliff Hillis (fuzzy, jaunty), Fernando Perdomo (epic), the Anderson Council (punchy!), Mark McCrite, Jason Berk, Kyle Richards and Tom Curless and the 46%. Put it all together and it’s one hell of an achievement feting those slightly mad, quirky popsters from Swindon—even without anyone attempting what may be the band’s best-known song, “Senses Working Overtime.” Available at: https://futuremanrecords.bandcamp.com/album/garden-of-earthly-delights-an-xtc-celebration Grade: A